How Retail’s Outdated Scheduling Practices Are Hurting Its Workforce

Retail has a scheduling problem.

Nearly 16 million people work in the U.S. retail industry, accounting for more than a tenth of the American workforce, and the majority of them work on an hourly basis. In many cases, this means their schedules can fluctuate from week to week — which can take a toll if they come up short on hours.

On average, sales associates in shoe, clothing and general merchandise stores make about $11.50 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And for those who are living paycheck to paycheck, missing a shift can leave them no choice but to delay a utility payment or hold off on sending a rent check until the week after it’s due.

Employment management platform WorkJam surveyed 1,000 U.S. hourly workers across retail, hospitality, logistics, health care and banking. It found that nearly half would be forced to pay their bills late if they missed a single shift, while a quarter would have to skip out on the week’s groceries. This financial insecurity is even more damaging for single-parent households: 67 percent of single mothers and 58 percent of single fathers said they would have to delay bill payments if they missed a shift.

While unplanned circumstances are unavoidable in some cases — say, for a family emergency or child’s illness — about half of respondents cited problems communicating with their managers.

New technology hasn’t improved matters: 57 percent of retail employees said they still learn of their weekly work shifts from paper schedules posted in break rooms.

The movement for more consistent scheduling has gained momentum in recent years, with several cities across the country passing legislation mandating advance notice of weekly schedules and additional compensation for “clopening” shifts, in which an employee has to return to work less than 11 hours after their previous shift ends. New York State has also proposed regulations that would require businesses to provide “call-in pay” if they required employees to be on call for potential shifts.

While some business have resisted these moves, saying they will cut into already-slim margins, one recent study from the University of California Hastings College of the Law found that stable scheduling can actually be good for companies’ bottom lines. Tracking 28 Gap stores over 10 months, the researchers found that labor productivity increased 5 percent and sales increased 7 percent in stores that implemented practices such as two-week advance notice of work schedules, eliminating on-call scheduling and shift swapping between coworkers via an app.

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